Interview with musical comedy group Barbershopera
Fresh from another successful, award-winning August at the Edinburgh Fringe with the show The Three Musketeers, London-based musical comedy group Barbershopera are preparing for a three-week run at the Trafalgar Studios with Cabaret Sauvignon. No, that’s not a typo, but a title typical of the punning, word-playing, quirky outfit whose previous shows have included The Barber of Shavingham and Apocalypse No, and who marry clever musical writing with a sense of joyful silliness.
Known for their original musicals and the unique format of a cappella four-part harmony featuring three guys and a girl, Barbershopera is the brainchild of university friends Rob Castell and Tom Sadler, who wanted to evolve the traditional barbershop quartet. In 2008, along with director Sarah Tipple and current actor Lara Stubbs, they took their first show, Barbershopera, to Edinburgh, winning an award and receiving rave reviews. Pete Sorel-Cameron joined the gang in 2009 and since then they’ve toured the UK and even South Korea, where Castell and Stubbs picked up Best Actor and Actress awards, and in 2010 they adapted that first show for Radio 4’s Afternoon Play, with John Sessions guest starring as narrator, and it was featured on Pick of the Week.
Whereas the usual shows are narrative-based, Cabaret Sauvignon is a cabaret-style show, and is a revisit of their first ever show in this style that played at the Soho Theatre earlier this year under the name Now That’s What I Call Barbershopera. After a slight copyright spanner got in the works, the show has been renamed and refreshed for the run this autumn. We caught up with three of the actors, Lara Stubbs, Pete Sorel-Cameron and Will Kenning for a chat…
So how was Edinburgh?
Lara: It was nice to go back – we didn’t go last year because we were all suffering a bit with creative burn out. Rob and Tom had written three shows in two and a half years, and with the addition of all the rewrites for transfers everyone needed a break. We wrote a song about it though. It was noticeably quieter in Edinburgh this year, possibly the effect of the Olympics. But still, we have a nice following there now and are getting new fans all the time who look out for us.
What would your highlight be?
Pete: I saw dance and mask show called Translunar Paradise – it was heart-breaking and beautifully crushing.
L: I really liked Bottleneck by High Tide productions.
Any low points?
Will: My bank balance.
L: Lack of sleep. You go a bit nocturnal in Edinburgh.
P: It was really sunny a lot of the time this year but we missed it because of being nocturnal! Ended up catching most of the rain.
Do you have to do things differently when you take a show up there?
P: It’s definitely a different audience for Edinburgh – you get to try stuff out on a quirky, leftfield audience. In London the audience might be more sophisticated, and regional audiences are always warm, welcoming, and laugh a lot.
L: And they make us lasagne.
P: You also have to extend Edinburgh shows from an hour to an hour and a half when they transfer elsewhere to incorporate an interval.
How does a change of line-up affect you?
L: We are in a fluctuating phase with the line-up after a long time with the same cast. We now have a bigger pool of people to support a relatively constant demand for shows.
P: It’s better now if we get offers for one-off shows, as we can replace one of the members who might be in another show or away, rather than turning the gig down.
L: We’re all doing lots of other things. The good thing is that time and care is taken over the auditions to ensure that new members can become part of the family. Rotating members keeps it fresh and keeps everyone on their toes. But the constant spirit of the company is the same – it’s warm, open, and joyful to be part of.
P: Yes, different actors bring different things but the spirit stays the same.
Where does the inspiration for the shows come from?
L: The weird minds of Rob and Tom!
W: It’s from toying with the combination of four people for the narrative, particularly three male and one female, which led to obvious themes such as the adaptation of The Three Musketeers, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and so on. The first show was about a barbershop quartet.
L: The cabaret shows are in the barbershop format but without the narrative. But we’re also doing a new radio show for the BBC that is more like a musical where there are a cast of characters.
What can people expect from the new London show?
W: It’s ten silly songs with natural banter, covering everything from the problem with boy scouts to gynecomastia and stalking.
L: It’s definitely got mass appeal – it’s informal and fun.
W: Maybe slightly cheeky.
P: It’s informed silliness!
W: It’s harmonious informed silliness. What I like to call “hiss”.
What does the future hold for Barbershopera?
L: It would be really nice to get a radio series, or even a TV series. Maybe a massive musical!
W: The music videos are good fun to make. For example our Could Have Married Kate. They also can have more impact and broaden your audience – they’re like business cards in a way!
L: More immediately, after the run in London, we’re taking The Three Musketeers on a regional tour, followed by three weeks at The Drum in Plymouth from the 5th to the 23rd December. We’re also recording The Barber of Shavingham as a radio show for the BBC on the 12th October in front of a live studio audience – people can get tickets for free to that, and it’ll be broadcast on Radio 4 as the afternoon play on Christmas Eve.
Cabaret Sauvignon is on at the Trafalgar Studios from the 18th September to the 6th October. Tickets are available here.
Tickets for the recording of the BBC Radio play can be obtained here.
Follow Barbershopera on Twitter (@Barbershopera)